Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Lioness on the Prowl

Note: The Marine Corps “Lioness” program pulls female Marines from various job fields and trains them to conduct searches of Iraqi women at security checkpoints in Iraq. Muslim culture prohibits men from touching women they do not know. The program is the Corps’ way of being culturally sensitive while improving the security of the country.

The lionesses undergo seven days of intensive training during which they learn how to carry out their specific mission of searching female Iraqis. They familiarize themselves with a broader array of weapons, refresh their Marine Corps martial arts skills and learn basic Arabic. Once the training wraps up, the female Marines are paired up and then attached to units doing checkpoint operations across the Anbar Province.

Lance Cpl. Melissa Tugwell is a 23-year-old, Lake Charles, LA-native. She is a combat correspondent with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). She is currently serving as a lioness and will file periodic firsthand reports about the mission.

At the Karma Checkpoint

After completing training, I was assigned to a security checkpoint in Karma, Iraq, with fellow lioness Seaman Christina Follmer. We fell under the supervision of the infantry staff noncommissioned officers of Weapons Platoon, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines.

I’ve found that our mission as lionesses is different than the mission carried out by the first female Marines who manned security check points in Iraq.

With Seaman Follmer, I have spent most of my time at the Karma checkpoint teaching and supervising Iraqi women as they search the women coming through our security point. This is another aspect of the recent turnover of security responsibilities in al Anbar Province to the Iraqi people.

Through the “Sisters of Fallujah” program, Iraqi women are recruited and trained to work at the checkpoints. The Iraqi court in Karma hired the Iraqi women we work with at the security checkpoint. Each woman had to have the blessing of their tribal chief in order to take the job conducting searches.

The crash course in Arabic we got at Camp Habaniyah was vital to our success in this supervisory role, as Seaman Follmer and I showed the Iraqi women how to search people and maintain security at the checkpoint.

As women and children came through the check point, we stood nearby and watched over the Iraqi women. In simple Arabic, we’d make sure that the Iraqi women took their time and thoroughly searched every woman and child, including their purses and other baggage.

With the help of body language, we were able to communicate with the women conducting searches, as they had essentially no understanding of English except for simple greetings, and “yes” and “no.”

Sometimes the Iraqi women standing post would try to let people pass without a complete and thorough search, i.e. not waving everyone with the security wand or not patting them down all the way. We quickly let them know that they must be diligent, carefully searching everyone. Otherwise, they put us at risk, as well as everyone who lives past the checkpoint.

Overall, the Iraqi women responded well to our guidance and supervision. I believe they understood we were there to help them. These women gave Follmer and me small gifts – simple rings and bracelets - to show their appreciation. I like to think they’ll remember us, as I will never forget working with them. I will leave the security checkpoint feeling as though I’ve made a small yet important impact on the quality of life of Iraqi women.

During this particular time in Iraq, we, as lionesses, get to assist in the turnover of responsibility to the Iraqis by employing the Iraqi women to conduct these critical searches instead of us. One day they will be on their own to police their own.

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/03/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.